Grits: The good, the bad and the ugly. January 18, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: bad grits, cheese grits, fried grits, grits, grits recipes
Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I grew up on grits, and we love them. But the reason we love them is that our mothers knew how to make them right. Made wrong, as we discovered when confronted with restaurant grits while travelling in the South, they’re about as appealing as a bowlful of pimply paste.
In fact, I’m not sure which are worse, those horrid, watery, runny, completely tasteless so-called grits that sog down your toast, eggs, and bacon, or the grainy instant grits that stick in your teeth and taste off, like they were created in a lab from sand and chemicals. Eeeewwww!!! No wonder most Northerners can’t bear the thought of grits. But they don’t know what they’re missing.
I’ve been pondering all this since Christmas, when my sister, who lives in Alabama, sent us a care package with three different brands of grits: Quaker, Dixie Lily, and Jim Dandy. All three are enriched white corn hominy grits, and all are the “quick” kind which cook up in 5 minutes. Quaker Quick Grits are the ones we grew up with in Nashville and the kind we can get up here in scenic PA, so I was curious to see if there was any difference between them and the other two brands. I haven’t tried the Jim Dandy grits yet, but Dixie Lily tastes just like Quaker grits to me, for what that’s worth.
Mind you, making good grits is easy. And, you’ll have noticed, fast. Once your water’s boiling, pour in the grits, put your toast or muffins in the oven or toaster, and start your eggs. By the time the rest of the food is ready, the grits will be, too. There’s no excuse for making either watery or instant grits, except self-preservation.
Say what? Grits get positively vengeful while they cook. (Well, who could blame them, really?) As they thicken up to the ideal consistency, which is thick like real oatmeal or homemade mashed potatoes, they start spitting on the hapless cook. Stirring furiously to try to keep them from bubbling, and the bubbles from bursting and splattering you with boiling grits, does help. But inevitably, there will come a moment when you turn away to answer a question or get a bit distracted, perhaps by the eggs, which also need attention, and yowie! Grits 1, cook 0. I suppose long oven mitts and full-body armor might help, but really.
Let’s say you’ve cooked your grits to thick, delicious perfection. That’s the good part. Here’s the bad part: Grits are basically a substrate for butter and salt. To be really good, like white rice and mashed potatoes, they need lots of butter, salt, and pepper. And I mean lots. Grits are definitely not for the calorie- or cholesterol-conscious. Even I blanched when I opened my sister’s package and saw three bags of grits. Fortunately, they’ll keep practically forever in the freezer, and they keep a darned long time in a glass jar, too.
Okay, we’ve dealt with the bad (butter and salt) and the ugly (runny and instant grits). Let’s get back to the good. We ate grits three ways when I was growing up: with lots of butter and salt, as cheese grits, and fried. You make cheese grits the same way you make regular grits, but when they’ve cooked to perfection, in addition to butter, salt, and pepper, you stir in lots of shredded white Cheddar. Yum! I suppose you could use less butter and salt in this case, but of course, we never did.
We loved our regular and cheese grits, but our ultimate favorite was fried grits. Don’t panic, we’re not talking deep-fried here. To make them, you simply make a double batch of regular grits, serve up your breakfast, and pour the leftovers in a rectangular baking dish. Smooth out the surface, let the grits cool to room temp, then cover the pan with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge.
Next morning (or the next morning you want grits), make horizontal cuts across the pan of solidified grits to create a long row of half-inch-thick slabs, then make one long cut right down the middle. Lift out each piece and dredge both sides in flour mixed with (of course) salt and pepper—not much flour will stick, but that’s okay—and saute them in a heavy pan with melted butter, flipping each piece over once and adding more butter as needed as you cook them up.
Needless to say, you need to eat these hot, when the outside is browned and crispy and the inside meltingly tender. So if there are more than two of you (or one of you happens to be OFB, who could eat a whole pan on his own), you may have to serve up breakfast assembly-style so everybody gets theirs hot. Trust me, it is worth it!!!
What else can you do with grits? Well, let’s get back to that refrigerated pan of solidified grits for a minute. Remind you of anything, like, say, polenta? Polenta with better texture and flavor, perhaps? Yes, indeed, you can cut those slabs of grits and use them any way you’d normally use polenta. Grill them or run them under the broiler, then flip them and top with shredded cheese or roasted, chopped mushrooms, bell peppers and onions. Or a little tomato sauce and shredded parmesan. Or Jarlsberg and onion chutney. Or…
A lot of people like to make their grits with garlic, which would certainly add a burst of flavor, replacing the need for salt and, if you used olive oil instead of butter, would up the heart-healthy factor, too. (We eat our grits for breakfast, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t face the thought of garlic for breakfast, so I’ve never tried them this way.) And shrimp and grits is a Louisiana specialty. (Also, obviously, not eaten at breakfast!) I’m sure a world of grits recipes awaits the adventurous online.
So, do you like grits? If yes, how do you like them? Please share your favorite ways of enjoying grits with us. With three bags, I’m going to need a few new ideas!
‘Til next time,